Detroit — The way it ended, sure it was disappointing. But Jeff Blashill had an opportunity to coach the Red Wings for seven seasons, and that will be an experience he’ll always treasure.
Blashill had faced the Wings once before, earlier this month in Tampa, where Blashill is now an assistant coach. But Wednesday was different, as the Lightning visited Little Caesars Arena, which Blashill called home for seven seasons as the Wings’ head coach.
Blashill had a 204-261-72 record with the Wings, taking the team to the playoffs the first season, but then he had a roster that underwent a massive rebuild the next six seasons.
The day after last season, after missing the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season, Blashill found out from general manager Steve Yzerman that the Wings were going in another direction.
“I’ll always treasure the opportunity I had as the head coach of my hometown team for seven years,” Blashill said. “Life is about a journey and it had an impact on my life and my family’s life.”
Shortly after the Stanley Cup Finals, the Wings hired Derek Lalonde as head coach. Lalonde was an assistant on Tampa head coach Jon Cooper’s staff. Ironically, Blashill briefly after, took Lalonde’s spot on Cooper’s staff.
Lalonde and Blashill are friends from a ways back.
“Bit awkward, probably for both of us,” Blashill said of the initial job switch. “But we’ve been friends for a long time and we’ve had each other’s backs at different times when it was important, and those types of friendships are bigger than our jobs and our job titles.”
Blashill moved his family down to Tampa, where they were greeted not too long after by Hurricane Ian (although the storm never truly hit where Blashill lives).
“From a quality-of-life standpoint, my family has enjoyed the move,” Blashill said. “They’ve all kind of settled into their different athletics and school. We’ve enjoyed it.”
From a hockey standpoint, Blashill has also found the move rewarding.
“When I took the job, ultimately, I wanted to add value. I wanted to go to a place I could learn and have a chance to win,” Blashill said. “Overall it’s been a good experience.”
One Red Wings forward who has struggled offensively during this six-game winless streak is Dominik Kubalik, with one assist during that span, along with a minus-five plus-minus rating.
Kubalik has one goal over his last 13 games.
With 26 points, Kubalik is still second on the team in scoring. Kubalik entered Tuesday’s game tied for the team lead with Dylan Larkin and David Perron with 10 goals.
“He’s probably fighting a little bit of his confidence,” Lalonde said, noting how Kubalik was making plays earlier this season that haven’t been there recently. “There’s probably a little of that. When he’s playing assertive, the first goal of the game in Ottawa, he wins a battle and keeps it alive on the forecheck and he passes it to Joe (Veleno for a goal) from below goal line.
“He’s maybe fighting it a little bit, but he probably reflects our entire team.”
Filip Zadina (lower-body) took part in Wednesday’s morning skate, but Lalonde doesn’t expect Zadina to play until after the New Year. Zadina has been out since November 5.
“He’s making progress,” Lalonde said. “It’s probably a natural progression and now he gets into our practices and morning skates. I had a quick talk with him (on the ice), and guys work hard to get back, they’re professionals, but with Z(adina), you could feel around the weight room and the trainer’s room he’s put in a little extra in his rehabilitation and I complimented him on it. It’s positive to see.
“There’s no timeline, but I’ll be excited to put him back in because of what he’s put into his recovery.”
Lalonde said Tyler Bertuzzi (hand) is a little further out than Zadina in terms of returning to the lineup, but Bertuzzi is also progressing.
“He’s a little more further out,” Lalonde said. “We’ll see. We’ll get through the New Year here and we could get guys back, but knock on wood here, we have to get to that point.”